Reviewed by Nicholas Havey
Your Lonely Nights Are Over
by Adam Sass
Viking Books for Young Readers
416pp, $19.99, Sep 2023, ISBN: 9780593526583
The 1996 horror classic Scream, written by Kevin Williamson and directed by genre legend Wes Craven, revitalized the slasher subgenre, subverting existing tropes, and providing new ones that have since become classics (and are more than evident in the series’ subsequent five films). The meta-commentary on the horror genre present through the films, demonstrated repeatedly by characters who discuss the ‘rules’ of horror movies and openly comment on genre cliches, is now a staple of the horror genre and exists in knowing winks to the audience, who are more than happy to watch in glee/terror as new characters monologue themselves into being stabbed to death. They think they’re smarter than the killer but that’s the fun of the film – the killer(s) are always one step ahead. They know the rules, they’ve seen the movies, and they’re ready to reinvent the Ghostface audiences know and love into a deadlier, more unpredictable predator. A recipe works for a reason, but there is always room to vamp, innovate, and surprise. Adam Sass’s third book, Your Lonely Nights Are Over, is an ode to that beloved recipe. But where the slasher classics of the 90s were made with whole milk (straight), Sass serves up the dairy-free (gay) version today’s readers crave.
We open on Dearie and Cole, two best friends who are as hot, clever, and fun as they are disliked. The pair aren’t afraid to call out the homophobic, racist, or just plain flop (their go-to insult) behavior of their classmates and are regular subjects of disdain and blame. When something goes wrong, it’s easy to place the blame on them. So when two members of their school’s queer student club receive threatening notes promising their untimely demise the same week a docuseries on the famed serial killer who wrote the original notes decades before only to be attacked a mere 24 hours later, Dearie and Cole are quickly named suspects. Someone is trying to kill the kids in the queer student club, and why not blame it on the characters who are already on the outs of the group?
Our cast of characters expands to include the other members of the queer student club, including a golden-retriever-of-a-person who survives the killer’s first attack, a straight-acting jock, a bitchy rich kid, a trans bubblegum princess, and an adorably artsy and kind love interest for Dearie. It’s a certified breakfast club, but one with history: drama abounds and Sass smartly gives almost every character plausible motive and opportunity to don Mr. Sandman’s theatrical mask and garrote their queer peers with his trademark weapon: a jagged ‘necklace’ complete with sharp, broken glass and barbed-wire. Cole quickly dyes his hair blond, aware of the pressing danger/gay panic spiral.
Sass moves at a breakneck (throat-slash?) speed, killing off the classic minor characters along the way, focusing on the loneliest hearts in town, while leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for Dearie, Cole, and the rest of our cast to piece together into a plausible suspect loaf. Like any good slasher, almost every interaction is ripe with suspicion. A solo car ride with the potential killer? A real nail biter. Texting a hookup that’s already inside your house, hiding in a closet? Talk about a lethal metaphor. A drive-in located in the middle of nowhere that the killer(s) certainly have tickets to? Sounds like a fun Friday night. Sass even has the audacity to throw a house party. A teenage rite of passage that obviously nothing horrible could happen at.
With bodies piling up, Dearie and Cole rely on their friendship, and wits, to suss out the killer(s). In classic slasher fashion, Sass has done an excellent job providing the most questionable of suspects alibis (including one impeccably written and perfectly paced scene that includes two killers, a livestream, and a group text) and making the cinnamon roll of a love interest for Dearie a certifiable possibility. The inevitable reveal is satisfying because of the intricate plotting Sass has done but also because he gives the reader just enough to work with to be surprised while simultaneously feeling like they’ve done their homework. The novel is incredibly fun but also delivers a welcome message.
At its core, Your Lonely Nights Are Over is a novel about loneliness and how people navigate it. Queer loneliness is a core aspect of the Sass cinematic universe and Dearie and Cole are perhaps its best navigators. They rely on each other and their bond, not unlike the one that forms between Sidney Prescott and Gale Weathers in the original Scream films and the Carpenter sisters in the reboots, is what keeps them alive. Perhaps more importantly, Dearie and Cole showcase the challenges that queer teens have to navigate when dating, having sex, and merely existing and their relationship is a superb demonstration of the power of queer kinship. What I loved most about Lonely Nights is that Sass wrote a novel that felt both like an ode to 90s slashers and a conversation with my friends about the slashers we’ve been obsessing over for decades. I cherish when an author makes me feel like my opinion was considered in the writing of their work and Sass is a master at representing his own experience – Dearie has a voice that is undeniably an echo of his author – while ensuring that experience is relatable. By the last chapters of the book, I felt like I knew the cast but also like I knew Adam Sass just a little bit better, and that’s my favorite way to consume art.
Sass ends Lonely Nights with the perfect ‘final scare,’ and, even though I am still mad about the killer reveal (in the best way), I can’t wait for the next one.
About the reviewer: Dr. Nicholas Havey is a Senior Manager at First Book, a nonprofit social enterprise focused on improving educational equity, a thriller and mystery writer, and a lover of all, but particularly queer, fiction. Nicholas’ other reviews of fiction are featured in Lambda Literary, Rain Taxi Review, and The Washington Independent Review of Books, and his reviews of academic work appear in a number of peer-reviewed journals.